What Do People Need To Be Happy At Work?

Dr. Christian M. Arbeiter

Work to live or live to work?

Everyone ponders this philosophical question at some point in their career. A 2017 study by the global personnel service provider Robert Half surveyed 23,000 employees in eight countries on this topic.

An interesting result was that neither salary nor work-life balance came up as the top priority. Here’s what mattered to the employees:

  • Pride to work for one’s employer
  • Fairness and respect at the workplace
  • Personal appreciation

And it is said that these factors apply to happy people.

Is this true?

Many companies use annual feedback surveys to ensure employee satisfaction and a positive corporate atmosphere by identifying what drives and motivates staff. According to the Robert Half study, most employees grapple with their individual contribution and the purpose of their work.

It is human nature to want to do work we consider meaningful. Additionally, we all want to feel that our abilities and performance are appreciated.

On the one hand, we all need that there is purpose in the work we do. On the other, we want to have a good time at work. Having fun at work can constitute purpose to some degree, but when an employee experiences both purpose and joy, this increases motivation, satisfaction, and happiness, which in turn boosts productivity.

Imagine working on a product that facilitates or improves the lives of humans or animals, or that enhances nature or the environment. What do employees feel and experience when they are part of such an initiative?

Based on a vision “to help the world run better and improve people’s lives,” SAP employees work on groundbreaking innovations. Blockchain, machine learning, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and other emerging technologies will leave an imprint on the working world and improve it in the years ahead. Repetitive tasks such as accounting, information research, etc., will be assigned to computers, which can work 24-7 and perform them more quickly and efficiently. This will free humans to work on creative and conceptual tasks and to make better decisions based on aggregated data gathered by machines (e.g., sensor data). Technology will continue to depend on human expertise.

Specific examples include sports and entertainment analysis systems, species protection for African wildlife (especially rhinos and elephants), and organizations like Viva con Agua, which brings clean water to those who need it.

Obviously, not everybody can be involved in such purpose-driven projects as these, but we all can feel that our work is meaningful when we consider how our actions benefit us and others, and how our employer and our fellow human beings can extract advantages from the work we do.

Potential disappointment and frustration about not having found one’s “dream job” can reduce the perceived positive aspects of one’s current employment. That is why organizational consultants recommend becoming aware of which elements of our work bring us joy and which do not.

“Job crafting,“ a concept shaped by Yale professor Amy Wrzesniewski, means configuring daily work in a way that best fits the employee’s interests and skills (Der Standard). Wrzesniewski found out that employees who find joy and interest in their work tend to work more while also reporting greater contentment than employees who do not.

It is not about working harder or working longer hours, but about finding fulfillment and purpose in what we do. That is why I appeal to executives to actively ask about strengths and interests of their employees and create teams that match these.

As employees, we should all ask where we can invest our passions to generate value for ourselves and our company. This not only boosts employee happiness, but it also impacts overall corporate culture, which in turn benefits every employee.

This article is a translation of the original version that appeared on LinkedIn Pulse and republished with the author’s permission.



Dr. Christian M. Arbeiter

About Dr. Christian M. Arbeiter

Dr. Christian M. Arbeiter is Human Resources Director at SAP Austria GmbH. He studied law; started his career in banking at Creditanstalt, Vienna and Credit Suisse, Zurich; has been market responsible for portfolio management systems at ChrisData Group, Switzerland; Global Account Manager for Swiss major banks, SAP Switzerland; Sales Manager for the financial services sector, SAP Austria; Project manager for an international large-scale insurance project, SAP Austria; HR Management, SAP Austria. For many years, he has been Director of Human Resources for SAP Austria GmbH, with temporary additional HR responsibilities for the region CEE, Switzerland and SAP organizations in Germany.